Too often, we acknowledge the bad outcomes of life but rarely take note when good deeds occur in our lives. It’s like the positive aspects of life skulk into the recesses of our minds yet we are quick to internalize when the tough breaks gnaw at our spirits. This is something that crystallized in my mind during a training session in my past corporate life. The trainer made a statement that immediately made sense; he noted that for every 100 people that fill out a complaint form, only one commendation letter is received praising the efforts of employees.
I write this as an introduction to this article for I too once occupied this lane that I just articulated. What I hope you gain from this article is that we as a people, all of us, are in this together and while we strive to do better, we only advance as a society when we speak to each other as fellow humans and neighbors. We live in a time of continual friction and animus as fellow strugglers in this journey called life continue to yell past each other. Perhaps the antidote is to stop demonizing each other and instead actually talk to each other and in between a dialogue and an acknowledgment see each others perspectives. It took a long journey for me to arrive at this destination and write an article about police officers in a way that does not feed into the fire for this article is speaking to the gap that exists between cops and the communities they serve.
Not too long ago, I used to view cops through jaded eyes and would tense up whenever a police officer entered my cypher. But a dance with destiny would lead to a revelation as an officer in Fairfax Virginia went beyond and above duty to guard over my interests. In the six hours that I spent with PFC Beaufort on a cold February day in 2015, I would gain a lifetime of gratitude and experience the goodness that is manifested through strangers. A chance meeting in the midst of a mind bending odyssey would forever change my perspective about police officers and in the process give me the understanding of benevolence that can reside in all of us.
It was this wisdom gained through hardship and a new perspective birthed through the kindness of a stranger that led me to a two year journey and transformed my outlook from perpetuating the divides that gnash at our nation into a “happy warrior” who chooses to use my abilities to bridge the chasm within our communities. Losing my fear of police officers led to a freedom of sorts; I no longer tense up and in fact take every occasion to approach cops and exchange dialogues with them the way I do with everyone else. Except I throw in a “thank you” somewhere in the conversation and let them I’m thankful for their presence.
It was this same gesture that led to a run in with a police officer in Fort Collins about a month and a half ago. I was live streaming a protest in Old Town Fort Collins and saw a police officer in the corner being friendly to everyone that was milling about. I decided to take a gander over and say hello and in the process let him know I appreciated his professionalism. I’ve done this plenty of times over the past two years and most of the time when I do so I am met with a sort of mild bewilderment. I’m pretty sure there is a socioeconomic aspect to the reaction of surprise I have gotten from some officers when I say thank you, but in reality this bemusement is also attributed to the fact that police officers rarely get appreciation by way of kind words from the communities they serve.
But not this day for I was not met with bewilderment at all and instead was greeted with a “thank you” as the police officer introduced himself as Dustin Wier. I told Officer Wier a truncated version of my travels and how I got around to no longer fearing police officers. Officer Wier gave me his business card and offered for me to go on a ride along whenever I wanted. I reflected on this offer for a couple of days and then decided to accept his offer because I knew at that moment that I wanted to write about the experience of the ride along and in the process convey a story of our common humanity and find ways to dispel the notion of “us versus them” that too many of us have which splinters police officers from the people they protect. It was a nugget of information that a friend would later tell me that convinced me that this chance meeting was not random at all and to email Officer Wier affirming my decision to go on the ride along with him.
Thus yesterday I met up with Officer Wier at District One police quarters in Fort Collins and went on the ride along that he offered almost two months ago. For three hours, I sat in the front seat of a Victoria crown police cruiser–a moment I would never have imagined when I was treated to back seat service to the clinker when I was a rebellious teenager. Officer Wier and I talked about his work and his daily beat; he covers most of northern Fort Collins and is responsible for responding to incidents as well as tending to ad hoc events that pop up on his daily routine. I got to see up close and personal various aspects of his job from how many police officers are deployed at any given time to the call signals that pertain to each cop.
Officer Wier and I responded to three incident. One was a domestic dispute that Officer Wier and another officer named John mediated and resolved in ways that was amicable to both parties. The next incident was a response to shoplifters at Walmart where I met the lady in charge of loss prevention. At the same location, a trespass infringement was passed on to Officer Wier which led to our last destination. We cruised around until we found the car that belonged to the offender at a local motel at which point a trespass warning was issued. It was this last incident that highlighted the tension that is evident at times between police and the communities they serve as the lady who received the warning was highly irate and went ballistic at Officer Wier and his backup partner Michael.
But Officer Wier deescalated the issue and never let the situation get out of hand. It was this incident that gave me an insight about the demands of being an officer and why some choose to push the boundaries of their power. Human nature is to meet force with force and to not back down when confronted with belligerence. Just this morning, on my way to work, someone went out of their way to speak negativity into my spirit as fiery rhetoric was used in order to prove eminence. My reaction was not to follow the ways of Officer Wier and instead chose to react to hatred with my own form of antagonism. On a daily basis, we are all encountered with moments of antipathy and too often we choose to respond with fire instead of opting for grace. It’s only the fear of repercussions that checks our ids and prevents us from doing things we would regret for many a men have feel from grace because they acted out of emotion.
So then imagine if I had a badge and had authority to match my need for not giving any quarter to those who try to diminish my light. This is what I thought about on my way to the gym and this message was amplified as I talked to my pastor David as he gave me another perceptive. The way to fight hatred is not through the flames but through patience and kindness. But this task is almost superhuman for none among us like to be accosted. Yet Officer Wier did that exact thing as he extended an olive branch to someone who was giving him stones and sticks. When we got back in the cruiser, I asked Officer Wier how he did that, how he was able to keep calm in the face of a verbal lashing. To which he responded that his default mode is to treat everyone with respect and kindness and realize that people have their bad days.
The best part of the ride along day for me was the stories officer Wier and I exchanged in the cruiser as he was making his rounds in Fort Collins. Dustin and I have one thing in common although our experiences are divergent; we both lost our fathers and it is this similar crucible that convinced me above all to accept Dustin’s offer to go on the ride along. Steve, a friend of mine at the farm I’m currently living at, immediately told me about Officer Dustin Wier’s father when he saw the Dustin’s business card because Steve’s dad was a cop too who served with Dustin’s dad in Denver. Dustin’s father lost his life on the line as he took his last breath serving and protecting the city he loved most. When I told Officer Wier of my father’s death sixteen years ago and how he succumbed to lung cancer, Dustin gave me his condolences and then told me about his own father.
Dustin lost his father when he was only six weeks old. Same pains but different paths; in the police cruiser, we both were able to understand each others journeys and shared how we coped with a grief that is common to all of humanity. If only more of us paused and understood that we all have struggles we share with each other, our paths would be that much easier if we just talked to each other. Dustin and I did just that, we shared stories of our youth as he told me about his childhood in New York and how his family tree is full of police officers the same way my family tree is full of war veterans. Not only did Officer Dustin and I have a loss in common, we share a lineage of heroes who gave of themselves so others could live in freedom. We all do what we do out of equal parts present choices and influences from our ancestors.
Though Dustin lost his father, he was blessed enough to be raised by another police officer in New York as his mother married one of NYPD’s finest. Dustin grew up in a loving home where a fair but tough cop and a caring mother raised him to be kind to others and to help people. It was the influence of his the father who took raised him as his own and his mother–as well as the presence of the father who passed away before Dustin spoke his first words–that became a pathway for him to serve and protect. Dustin eventually moved to the same state his father gave his life serving in as he attended Colorado State University and then became a police officer.
I tell this story to show that police officers are not disconnected from us–they are of us. It is easy to vilify people in the abstract until we actually hear their stories and understand that they are just like us. Police officers live in the same communities they work and serve in. I write all the time about fighting injustice but my stance against the few who are tearing our nation asunder is not in any way meant to condemn police officers or those who serve our nation. I arrived in America in 1982 to escape the clutches of a police state that was and still is Ethiopia–the thin line between liberty and tyranny is a local police who serve in the same community that they live in.
If you think that things are bad, just close your eyes for a minute and imagine if the police chose to go on a nationwide strike and the chaos and hell that would unleash. Anarchy sounds good in theory until mob justice is loosened upon society. Likewise, imagine if the local and state police were truly federalized and the “keepers of law” are people who don’t reside among us and are instead troops from other states. As I stated at the outset of this article, too often we look into the negatives of the world but we don’t appreciate the good until the good exits stage left. Instead of demonizing police officers from a distance and letting protests dictate emotions, maybe it is best to reach out to them and extend a hand of friendship and make allies out of those who have it in their hearts to serve and protect us.
What I am writing is not an attempt to wash away the excesses of those who wear the badge and choose to use power to step on the rights of others. My past fear of police officers was not based on just perception, there has been times in my life where I too was subjected to harsh treatments at the hands of a few cops. When I was growing up in Prince William County, on one too many occasions, I was pulled over and asked what I was doing in certain neighborhoods as if sections of America are reserved for people who don’t look like me. I too have been treated to incidents where some cops chose hubris over kindness. If I was subjected to this growing up in the comforts of suburbia America, I can only imagine what the experiences some go through in the inner cities and in places where crime rates are high.
I raised this issue up with Officer Wier and he did not dismiss this concern out of hand. He stated that police officers should be held to a higher standard and that those who choose to abuse their power should be pushed out and prosecuted when their actions cross legal boundaries. Dustin actually shared with me the story of Jarett Branson who was given a four year prison sentence for stalking a woman over a three month span and wreaking havoc on her. Dustin cited this example of how some choose the wrong path and how a few bad apples can ruin the image and reputation of the many who serve with distinction. I echo Officer Wier’s statement for the one of the highest privilege anyone can have is the responsibilities officers have to protect the communities they live in.
When cops are caught doing anything immoral and illegal, swift justice should be applied in order to lessen the chasm between the police and the rest of us. However, just as it is not fair for me to be judged for the actions of criminals, neither is it fair for all police officers to be blamed for the sins of a few bad cops. Collective judgement and collective punishment sucks; anytime we assess the credentials of people we meet, it should be based on the content of their character and not based on the color of their skin or any external trait that is not part and parcel of their inner nature.
Officer Wier and I were able to connect as humans because we talked to each other and in the process we realized that we have a lot in common. I hope more and more of us do this; to see each other as fellow humans instead of enemies to conquer. Easier said than done as I still simmer when anyone tries to impose hatred or their animus on me. But I shall reflect on the grace that Officer Wier chose to give the lady at the motel on South College Avenue and try my best to be more forbearing to those who lash out in the future. This is how we heal the world; by returning animus with kindness and in the process letting love be the balm that heals the brokenness of our planet.
I know we live in a time where we too often elevate our pains and want others to acknowledge our suffering while we overlook the pains of others. This is why animosity is proliferating as people keep using rhetoric to blast each other and refusing to understand their common struggles. Acknowledging the pains of others does not make yours any lesser; in fact the opposite is true. Bonding with someone who is radically different than you on the basis of a common struggle cures the heart and mends wounds that refuse to heal. Instead of using hashtags and memes to elevate our pains and diminish others, how about we step out of the echo chamber and the bubble that demagogues entrap us with and instead extend a hand of friendship to someone who does not look or think like us?
I’m not saying this from a place of piety and I hope I don’t come across as being sanctimonious. I just know through my life experiences that the struggle is not between “black” and “white”, men versus women, believer versus non-believers and the endless ways we are pitted one against the other. The struggle has been and will continue to be between the powerful few and rest of us; this paradigm won’t change until the masses unite and stop letting the few divide us. We are truly all in this together and to blame cops for injustice is akin to blaming me for the endless useless wars that are declared in the name of freedom as we forget about our veterans for I once worked as a defense consultant in the Pentagon. Decent and honorable people sign up to be police officers and at times even the most virtuous among us fall to our baser instincts.
All of us fight our brokenness and it’s our inner hurt that makes us lash out; it is best to be kind to each other for judging and being spiteful doesn’t work. I’ve encountered countless people who take the little powers they are given and use it to reign above others. Working in minimum wage jobs and non-paying jobs over the past two years has shown me that even those who reside at the bottom of the totem pole will quickly step on others if their ego is not constrained by humility to help others. This is a human trait every bit as common as the mountains in Colorado and some cops are susceptible to this as any of us are. But in the end, it is best to be mindful of the good and reward good behavior with appreciation instead of only focusing on those who violate their oath.
See the picture above of the police officer with his wife and his daughter? That is one Matias Ferreira, a US Marine who lost both his legs in Afghanistan and has went through the fires and back in order to serve his nation. Ferreira, an immigrant from Uruguay, loved his nation so much that he sacrificed for the sake of patriotism while too many in Washington DC use loyalty to nation as means of getting re-elected. Goes to show, love of America does not stop at the border nor is courage limited by the lines that divide us. The story of Ferreira is common to all veterans who sign up to give back only to end up being mauled by war. The biggest wars that veterans face is not even the battle field, it’s the war in the mind as they try to mend from the scars of seeing humanity reduced to death and destruction. Ferreria though is a Marine through and through, his heart pumps esprit de corps for breakfast and he refused to be a victim.
With the soul of a warrior, he tackled life fully and endured endless rehabs to regain normalcy. On January 21st, 2011, an IED took both legs of Ferreira; on March 23rd 2017, Ferreira defiantly took back what was taken as he graduated the Suffolk Police Academy in order to be a cop. This is something I have notice about police officers I have met, from Greenville South Carolina to now Fort Collins, I have encountered one cop after another who once served tours overseas. Some are born for this, their blood is imbued with courage and the tenacity to lay all on the line in order to protect us. He will be protecting Suffolk County in New York; the same state that was hit on September 11th and whose twin towers was felled by fire the same way that Ferreira’s ‘s legs were felled by an explosion. Full circle; what starts with tears and blood ends up with blessings and love if we refuse to let our past be our prologue.
As for me, a long journey full of hardship and tears leads to a blessing. When I was a teenager, on one too many occasions my knuckle-headed ways led to a rendezvous at the police station. Yesterday, my journey started at the police station and over three hours I got to ride in the front seat and my past bad memories were replaced by a new experience of friendship that Officer Dustin Wier gave to me and to many constituents in Fort Collins. As the video below shows, this most sublime journey of mine started two years ago because of the grace and kindness that officer Beaufort gave me. From Beaufort (which means beautiful fort in French), I end up in Fort Collins and run into Dustin whose life story resonates with me. It’s like God writes poetry through our lives by way of strangers and serendipity.
Before I met up with Dustin yesterday morning, I had a random encounter with another officer and when I told him that I was going for a ride along with Officer Wier, he told me that Dustin was his officer and introduced himself as Lieutenant Kinsman. Lieutenant Kinsman went on to tell me about his journey as well and shared with me that he was working on a program to help the homeless population in Fort Collins–an issue that is near and dear to my heart for I too once struggled with homelessness. There are no accidents in life; chance meetings are truly a blessing if only we realize that our lives are all interconnected. Life is poetic and connected if we only look for the blessings that are abundant all around us.
When I asked Dustin about the meaning of “thin blue line”, he stated that too many people believe it refers to “us versus them” mentality that people think cops have. Rather, Officer Wier stated that the “thin blue line” is a line between chaos and order and that the blue line is police officers who stand astride of this line in order to ward off havoc and lawlessness. Here is my prayer for our nation and the whole world; may the thin blue line extend to a full circle and that we join hands with those who serve and protect and in the process bind our nation with love and understanding. #ThinBlueLine2FullCircle
We can let hate and animosity tear at the fabric of our society or we can allow love and kindness to mend our nation.
A thank you to officer Dustin Wier (in the feature picture alongside his wife) of the Fort Collins Police Department and all police throughout the nation who keep the peace and are the thin blue line between havoc and love.
Originally from Ethiopia with roots to Atse Tewodros II, Lij Teodrose is a former community organizer whose writing was incorporated into Barack Obama's South Carolina primary victory speech in 2008. He pivoted away from politics and decided to stand for collective justice after experiencing the reality of the forgotten masses. His writing defies conventional wisdom and challenges readers to look outside the constraints of labels and ideologies that serve to splinter the people. Lij Teodrose uses his pen to give a voice to the voiceless and to speak truth to power.
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